historic black bus company at museum

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

SPENCER ó The N.C. Transportation Museum will open a temporary exhibit Friday that tells a story of segregation and entrepreneurial spirit in North Carolina.
Artifacts tracing the history of Safe Bus Company, the only city bus company in the nation with black ownership that ran a fixed route for the general public, will be on exhibit at the museum through February 2009.
Safe Bus Company, which operated in Winston-Salem from 1926 to 1972, was formed to provide black workers in east Winston-Salem with transportation to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. plants. At that time, electric trolleys and other forms of public transportation did not operate near the eastern part of town where most black people lived.
Over the next 40 years, Safe Bus Company’s riders and profits increased markedly. Eventually, though, the Winston-Salem Transit Authority bought the bus company in an effort to expand integrated bus service.
The company’s name stems from a promise made to Mayor Thomas Barber in 1926 to operate a safe and organized bus system, as the company transitioned from individually owned jitneys to a fleet of 35 city buses.
“We are excited about telling the Safe Bus Company story,” says Walter Turner, the Transportation Museum’s historian. “The company’s ability to organize and finance a city bus system that lasted more than four decades is extraordinary.”
To celebrate the history of Safe Bus Company, the museum will exhibit historic photographs, bus tokens, a bus driver’s uniform and employee handbook and other items belonging to employees there.
“We should always be looking for opportunities to expose our children to African-American history,” said Art Barnes, Winston-Salem Transit Authority general manager. “The Piedmont region is steeped in this rich history and we encourage everyone to join us on Feb. 15 at the Transportation Museum to learn more.”
For more information about the transit authority, log on to www.wstransit.com.
This program reflects the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources 2008 theme, “Telling Our Stories,” a yearlong celebration that showcases the story of North Carolina’s rich arts, heritage and cultural life. Visit www.ncculture.org for more information.
For more information about the N.C. Transportation Museum, call 704-636-2889, toll-free at 1-877-NCTM-FUN, or visit www.nctrans.org.
The N.C. Transportation Museum, located in historic Spencer Shops, the former Southern Railway repair facility for steam locomotives, is part of the Division of State Historic Sites, Department of Cultural Resources.